Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Nicholas Farrell


Gold compounds have been used in medicine dating back as early as 2500 BC. Over the years gold(I) and gold(III) compounds have been used and designed to target rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and viral diseases. New drug targets have been found for gold compounds that give insight into their mechanisms of action. Here we focus on the synthesis of Au(III) compounds designed to selectively target zinc finger (ZF) proteins. ZF proteins exhibit a variety of functions, including transcription, DNA repair, and apoptosis. Displacement of the central zinc ion, along with mutation of coordinated amino acids can result in a loss of biological function. Synthesis of complexes that selectively target zinc finger proteins, in turn inhibiting DNA/ZF interactions and therefore resulting in loss of protein function, is of great interest. Of particular interest here is the Cys3His (Cys = cysteine, His = histidine) HIV nucleocapsid zinc finger protein, NCp7. NCp7 is involved in multiple steps of the HIV life cycle, thus making it a desirable drug target. Previous studies from our group show platinated nucleobases such as [Pt(dien)(9-EtG)]2+ (dien = diethylenetriamine; 9-EtG = 9-ethylguanine) to stack effectively in a non-covalent manner with tryptophan of the C-terminal finger of HIV Nucleocapsid, NCp7(F2), a key residue involved in nucleic acid recognition. Due to the isoelectronic and isostructural relationship of Au(III) to Pt(II), we have expanded this system to Au(III)-(nucleobase/N-heterocycle) compounds. Novel Au(III)(dien)(N-heterocycle) compounds, including the first Au(III)N3(N-purine) examples, were synthesized. As previously reported for [AuCl(dien)]Cl2, these compounds exhibit pH dependency of the 1H NMR chemical shifts of the dien ligand. The acidity of the dien ligand is affected by the nature of the fourth ligand as a leaving group. The presence of an inert nitrogen donor, compared to that of the more labile Cl-, as the leaving group stabilizes the Au(III) metal center towards reduction, resulting in significant enhancement of π−π stacking interactions with tryptophan relative to platinum(II) and palladium(II) compounds. The presence of a more inert N-donor as the leaving group slows down the reaction with the sulfur-containing amino acid N-Acetylmethionine (N-AcMet); essentially no reaction was observed for the Au(III)-N-heterocycle compounds. All compounds react readily with N-Acetylcysteine (N-AcCys), however lack of N-heterocycle ligand dissociation indicates, to our knowledge, the first long-lived N-heterocycle-Au-S species in solution. Electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) studies with NCp7(F2) indicate [Au(dien)(DMAP)]3+ (DMAP = 4-dimethylaminopyridine) to be the least reactive of the Au(III) compounds studied, showing the presence of intact NCp7(F2) zinc finger at initial reaction times. Reactivity of the Au-compounds was compared with that of Sp1(F3), a Cys2His2 ZF; in contrast, no intact ZF was observed for any of the compounds studied, suggesting the mode of action of these compounds is dependent on the nature of the zinc binding core. ESI-MS studies were expanded to that of the full HIV NCp7 zinc finger. [Au(dien)(9-EtG)]3+ reacts quickly with NCp7, resulting in immediate zinc ejection and replacement with up to three gold ions. Unlike with [Au(dien)(DMAP)]3+, no intact NCp7 was observed. Addition of [Au(dien)(9-EtG)]3+ to preformed NC-SL2 complex results in release of free RNA; based on EMSA (electrophoretic mobility shift assay) studies, [Au(dien)(9-EtG)]3+ disrupts the NCp7-RNA complex with an IC50 of ~450 µM. It is possible that this HIV nucleocapsid-nucleic acid antagonism may result in a loss of viral activity.


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